Bottoms up: Foxfield braces for students

Most people come to Foxfield to watch the horse races, with one notable exception.

The college students who flock to Foxfield from across the state have another objective in attending the spring running of the semi-annual steeplechase races: getting stinking drunk.

And that's a rite that Foxfield officials would like to change.

The behavior of intoxicated students has drawn the scrutiny of the Alcoholic Beverage Control board, which is poised to revoke Foxfield's already-precarious liquor license at the slightest infraction. In recent years, the Foxfield Racing Association has had to spend big bucks to keep the unruly boozed-up students under control.

Foxfield boss Benjamin Dick equates public drunkenness with bad manners. "My philosophy as president of Foxfield is that people should police themselves," says Dick. "That's what my mother taught me– not to create havoc at social functions. If you did, she'd show you the door."

Foxfield's equine sporting event license was yanked April 30, 2003, for 15 months. But "They can still use it if they comply with the order," says ABC spokeswoman Becky Gettings. That ABC order– which Foxfield officials call "an official vendetta"– required the nonprofit group to hire one uniformed private security officer for every 200 tickets sold. Foxfield also had to pay an $8,000 fine.

Students who create havoc at the Saturday, April 24, event may be shown the door– or the fence. Approximately 75 state police and ABC agents, eight to ten sheriff's deputies, and 35 county police will cover the grounds and surrounding roads, according to Dick. That's in addition to Foxfield's private security force of 100.

"It's overkill, in my opinion," says Dick, "but it does comply with the state order."

This year's races will be an even safer event, he promises: "We've hooked up with UVA emergency services as part of their program to reach out to the community."

Foxfield will be ready for any emergency, says Jeff Cutruzzula, administrator of UVA's emergency medical services, which is working with the Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad.

In addition to emergency medical technicians and paramedics patrolling the grounds on bicycles, a doctor and two emergency medical residents will be on duty. There will be first aid tents, and a communications station will be ready to deploy help to any part of the grounds. Ambulances and fire equipment, as well as UVA's medical helicopter, Pegasus, will be available, says Cutruzzula.

Last year, Foxfield used Henrico County emergency services at a cost of $2,000. Using UVA's emergency medical services costs almost $10,000, says Dick.

"The scope of the services and the presence of UVA medical staff brings much more value to Foxfield," says Cutruzzula.

That includes attending an educational session with UVA students, adds Cutruzzula.

Foxfield officials have been preaching the gospel of responsible drinking to students at JMU, Sweet Briar, Hampden-Sydney, Georgetown University, Hollins, and Washington and Lee. (Only Virginia Tech refused Foxfield's efforts at education, says marketing director Anne Browne.)

"This is in the only social event in Virginia with this amount of education," says Dick, not to mention this much law enforcement.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving think it's about time. "We have nothing against horse racing," says MADD president-elect Andrew Torget. "It's become a venue for a drunken good time, and the students going out there aren't going to watch the races."

Dick says it's tough to teach students to not drink– especially when people their age are dying in war.

"You see the faces of those kids killed in Iraq who are 18, 19, and 20," says Dick. "Those kids can't have a cold beer in the state of Virginia. Students see that very cynically."

And the alcohol issue is a distraction for horse lovers as well. "[Foxfield director] Patrick Butterfield says, 'What is this all about– a horse race or controlling students?' " relates Dick.

Nonetheless, says Dick, "Students should come and have fun." Just not too much fun.

Foxfield has printed hundreds of posters on responsible drinking in hopes of educating students eager to imbibe.